Gutshot straight draw (Or, how writing is like poker)

I love playing poker.

Here’s what I love about it: there’s an element of skill, and there’s an element of luck.

The element of luck makes my husband crazy. He’s a formulaic kind of guy. If you have two aces and some other guy has suited connectors (like a five of hearts and a six of hearts), the aces should win the hand — if for no other reason than that the other guy shouldn’t be calling a big raise with suited connectors.

Wait, I might be losing you. I’m talking poker. Basically, sometimes in poker, you get lucky. You can’t play by formula. It just doesn’t always work that way. You play your opponent, and you play your cards.

And sometimes you still lose.

Sometimes you play on a draw. This is like clinging to a prayer. You get three chances to see new cards in Texas Hold ‘Em. There’s the flop, the turn, and the river. Say you have a hand where you might be chasing a straight. You’ve got 3, 4, 6, and 7. You need a 5 to win the hand. There are only four “5” cards in the whole deck (52) that can make your hand. Those are horrible odds. It’s called a gutshot straight draw. And it’s so, so tempting to keep betting, hoping you’re going to get that one card, when in reality, something else is going to come up.

When you’re looking at a gutshot straight draw, cut your losses. Lay the hand down.

When you’ve written yourself into a hole, stop digging. Start something new. Maybe come back to it later. Stop writing yourself deeper.

Sometimes you’ve got a great hand that’s just not working for you. Say you were dealt a pair of aces at the beginning of the hand, but some dude across the table is just hammering you with bets. All of a sudden, all you have is a pair of aces, and you’ve got this sick feeling in the bottom of your stomach that he’s got something better. A pair of aces is a great hand to start with — but it still only wins half the time. Someone could have trips (three of a kind), or even a straight, a flush, or a full house. Suddenly, your aces aren’t looking so hot.

This is like when you start writing a vampire novel, and suddenly realize that everyone and his brother has already done that.

Sometimes luck works in your favor. These are the kinds of things you can’t worry about. If you catch a break, you catch it. If you don’t, you don’t.

Timing. You have no idea what’s going to be a hot topic next month, next year, next decade. Don’t worry about it. Write a good story. You think Stephenie Meyer was swiveling back and forth in a computer chair saying, “Hmm. Vampires. Totally in next spring.”

The economy. Right now, a bazillion people are laid off and thinking it’s a good time to write a novel. So what? Like there wasn’t a lot of competition before?

Mood. Maybe the person reading your manuscript just isn’t in the mood for a mystery. You can’t control this. Let it go.

Play the cards you’ve got, as well as you can. If it’s not working, lay it down.

Then just wait for the dealer. Here comes your next hand.

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